FOX Sports NFL analyst Kevin Burkhardt was on hand for Carolina’s only loss of the season – a 20-13 loss in Atlanta in Week 16. The Panthers still finished with the best record (15-1) in the league and will have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, but there are those who think that Arizona (13-3), not Carolina, is the NFC favorite to reach Super Bowl 50.
“I think you could also put the Seahawks right there too,” Burkhardt pointed out on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “I don’t want to play them. I don’t think anybody wants to play them.”
That’s probably true. After all, the Seahawks have won six of their last seven games, and the Cardinals are 26-5 over the last 31 games in which Carson Palmer has played.
Nevertheless, Burkhardt is rolling with Carolina.
“I will tell you – and I have great respect for (Seattle and Arizona) and both head coaches – I still think Carolina is the best team in the league,” Burkhardt said. “I just do. They lost a game that we did in Atlanta. The Giants obviously pushed them to the brink (38-35 in Week 15). They had a (close) game in New Orleans (41-38 in Week 13). I think a lot of that comes with the weight of being undefeated, of being 16-0.”
Indeed, some people actually think it’s a good thing that Carolina lost to Atlanta late in the season. Now the Panthers don’t have to worry about perfection or chasing history; they can just go out and play football. And hey, look what happened after the loss to Atlanta: the Panthers throttled the Buccaneers, 38-10.
Still, not all is perfect in Panther Land.
“The one thing that would concern me about Carolina is this,” Burkhardt said. “I think Jonathan Stewart should be okay and if he’s healthy, that’s a huge deal for them. I think their offense is locked, loaded and ready to go. And defensively, their front seven is just playing at a very high level. But what does scare me for them is the secondary. If they play a team that can really run with these wide receivers, I think they’re going to have some issues. They’ve had injuries. Bene Benwikere is out. Charles Tillman just tore his knee up and he’s out. They’re going to have Rolando McClain and Cortland Finnegan starting as far as corners No. 2 and 3 opposite Josh Norman. Their safeties are Roman Harper, who’s a great veteran but he’s not a speed guy, and Kurt Coleman, who’s had a great year but again not a real super speed guy. That’s what would concern me about Carolina.”
Of course, it helps having Cam Newton, who had an MVP-caliber year with 45 touchdowns (35 pass, 10 rush) to only 10 interceptions. It also helps having tight end Greg Olsen, who had 1,104 receiving yards and seven touchdowns, and linebacker Luke Kuechly, who led the Panthers with 118 tackles despite missing three games. Kuechly was also one of four Carolina defenders with at least four interceptions.
“If you’re asking me now, obviously both those teams (Carolina and Arizona) have had great years and I can’t count out Seattle,” Burkhardt said. “But I still think Carolina is the best team, and I still think they’re going to go to the Super Bowl.”